We got to see one of our favorite new architectural documentaries on Sunday, called Unfinished Spaces: Cuba’s Architecture of Revolution, by Alysa Nahmias and Ben Murray. The film documents the creation, and subsequent scuttling, of Cuba’s National Arts Schools. Designed by architects Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti, the highly expressive Modernist schools, built mostly of Terra Cotta, were an example of visionary architecture and idealistic arts education for all, from dance to visual arts. But after the Castro government wearied of creative expression and embraced Soviet-style building, they changed their minds, shutting down construction, although classes later continued in the schools’ ruins. Now the country has once again done an about-face and is hoping to save them, despite a lack of government funding. Look at our next issue for a full review. And if you’re in LA, check out more screenings of the film on June 24 and June 25. Read More
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads
Pulitzer Fountain, Grand Army Plaza
60th Street & 5th Avenue
Through July 15
Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza has been overrun with a menagerie of sorts: the installation of Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. This is the first major public exhibition in America for the Chinese artist. This site specific installation is a modern reinterpretation of the 18th century Yuanming Yuan fountain-clock that featured 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac spouting water. With this project, Ai explores the “fake” in relation to the original sculptures (which were ultimately pillaged by French and British troops in 1860; five of the original heads are still missing). In this version, 12 oversized bronze animal heads ring the Pulitzer Fountain, each weighing approximately 800 pounds. While this project explores some rather esoteric themes, it is accessible and “a work that everyone can understand, including children and people who are not in the art world,” said Ai, who collaborated with Herzog & de Meuron on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.
Bikes First. To protect its cycling tradition and its bikers’ safety, Copenhagen continues to enhance its metropolitan bicycle system. StreetsBlog reports that 37 percent of the city’s urban population bikes to and from work and school on the city’s extensive network of bicycle-only lanes, park paths, and renovated railway tracks. The public transportation system also supports bicycle-travel, while the city has slowly reduced the number of car lanes on streets and auto-routes.
Pedestrians, Too. Chicago moves forward this week on its highly anticipated Pedestrian Plan – an attempt to remedy high levels of hit-and-run fatalities and create a safer walking environment. After the tragic death of Martha Gonzalez at the South Halsted Street intersection, the municipal government realized that further safety measures must be taken. According to the Tribune, the city will host eight public meetings throughout the summer to gather constituent input, the foundation of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s action plan.
Construction Sand-Box. While excavating the foundation of his new home in Colorado, Ed Mumm was inspired to develop the Dig This project–a construction equipment playground for adolescents and adults. PSFK reveals that Munn’s second Dig This location recently launched in Las Vegas, where guests can operate a Caterpillar bulldozer or excavator after attending a 30-minute safety briefing.
River Craft. BldgBlog brings news that the Dutch art group Observatorium finished Waiting for the River, a 125-foot-long habitable bridge, in 2010. The project is installed on the Emscher River wetlands, a sewer canal contained by dikes that will flood completely within 10 years. Observatorium invites people to wait for the river in the reclaimed-timber cabins; furnished with beds and plumbing.
Domino: Old and New
Tuesday, June 20
Museum of Jewish Heritage (reception following at Skyscraper Museum)
36 Battery Place
Tonight at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Skyscraper Museum hosts “Domino: Old and New,” a program on reinventing Williamsburg’s historic industrial waterfront that focuses on the development of the Domino Sugar Factory site.
Principals from the project’s design, engineering, and construction teams will present on development possibilities for the 11.2 acre site (slated to include over 2000 residential units and four acres of public space) and participate in a panel discussion led by AN‘s own executive editor Julie V. Iovine. Further details at the Skyscraper Museum.
Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) shared a few images of their newly complete Tour FIRST tower in Paris, France, now the city’s tallest building. Standing 760 feet tall in the city’s La Défense district, the glass tower isn’t completely new. It’s actually a major addition on top of a 1970s structure designed by Pierre Dufau—a move the firm said makes the building more sustainable than new construction. New windows were punctured in the old structure’s concrete skin and the building was opened up to surrounding public space. With Tour FIRST, New York-based KPF continues its skyscraper spree, having designed what are currently the tallest buildings in Hong Kong and London.
We’re back from NeoCon in Chicago, where we had a fantastic showroom crawl with designers passing through Hafele, The Fine Line, and Toto. People had drinks, took in the fantastic products, and stretched their legs after a long day at the Merchandise Mart. Now that we’re back at the office, we drew a card for the winner of an iPad 2.
Architects against the bank. We Make Money Not Art interviewed architect Armin Blasbichler to learn more about an unusual project he conducted with 21 of his students at the University of Innsbruck. Known as “Blasbichlers Twentyone,” the project asks students to research and devise a plan to carry out a bank robbery but identified assets as an architect might, “time, space, image, future clients, electric power, etc.” Check out the associated publication for diagrams and detailed plans of attack.
Opening in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Film Festival premiers Unfinished Spaces, a film portraying the lives of three architects Roberto Gottardi, Ricardo Porro, and Vittorio Garratti as they finally return to Cuba to see what has come of their designs for schools of the arts. Also included in the film, intimate footage of Fidel Castro.
Design & art direction accolades. The annual D&AD awards have been announced. Creative Review highlights some of the winning graphics and packaging designs, like Yves Behar’s Clever Little Bag for Puma and Troika’s V&A Palindrome sign. Be sure to also note the award to architect Carmody Groarke for temporary roof restaurant Studio East Dining.
James Franco, curator edition. Collaborative art firm Praxis pairs up with James Franco for the launch of the Museum of Non-Visible Art. As Mediabistro notes, the team has managed to raise most of their funds through a Kickstarter project that offers an incentive to collaborate with the artists. Perhaps this “museum of ideas” will formalize beyond conceptual art in space, but without imagination it simply won’t exist.
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Michael C. McMillen: Train of Thought
Oakland Museum of California
1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Through August 16
The Oakland Museum of California’s new exhibit looks at four decades of work by Michael C. McMillen, a California-based mixed-media artist. Curated by Philip Linhares, who is also a long-time collaborator of McMillen’s, the retrospective includes sculptures, tableaus, paintings, drawings, films, and large-scale installations. Found objects have long played an important part in McMillen’s work since childhood, when he began crafting toys for himself out of old radios and other discarded items. The artist’s creations often call to mind the cinematic landscapes of a Hollywood picture, somewhat appropriate given that he once worked making miniatures, like the motel model above, and props for films, including such sci-fi classics as Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. McMillen often uses architectural references and clever visual cues to transport viewers into an altered reality. He wants viewers to “come away from the experience seeing the world in a slightly different way,” McMillen said in an artist’s statement.
Last week the New York chapter of the AIGA held its second annual “Fresh Blood” event, featuring top graduating students from design programs across the region. Ten students were given five minutes each to dazzle the crowd at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn with presentations related to their thesis research. Scott Stowell, the evening’s MC, kept things lively, peppering the students with questions about their work and cracking jokes that stoked school rivalries.
All the presentations were excellent, but here are a few that we just can’t stop talking about: